You Know It When You See It


In a few days, we’ll go to the polls to elect a mayor and two city commissioners.

It’s an important election because the balance of power on the commission is up for grabs.

For a long time now, elections in Delray Beach have been less about policy, ideas, and experience and more about personalities, innuendo, and misinformation.

This year is no different, and there’s an added element too: partisanship.

Our elections are officially non-partisan. I always thought that was a good thing. But this year, there’s a Republican presidential primary scheduled along side our municipal races. Two candidates are trying to leverage that quirk in the calendar thinking that more people will turn out to vote this year than for a typical city race which sadly always has abysmal turnout.

I’ve never understood why people don’t vote. Why would you disenfranchise yourself? Yet, typically as much as 90 percent of registered voters will stay home for a municipal election.

Even casual readers of this space know that I think local government is important to our quality of life. From taxes and public safety to the condition of our roads and the quality of our drinking water, local government matters. A lot.

Leadership drives progress and empowers professional city staff to be the best they can be.

If the right leadership shows up and works with and for the community, good things happen. If the wrong people occupy seats of power bad things happen.

If leadership (and I use that term loosely) thinks that it’s OK to squelch ideas, bully volunteers and fight each other, you are toast. Game over. Take your investment capital, passion for community service and civic pride and put it on ice until the climate changes. And the truth is it may not change for a while.

Success begets success but the corollary is also true. It’s hard to break losing streaks.

We have so much coming at us at all times. So much and so little at the same time.

Let me explain.

Life in 2024 is noisy—distractions, emails, phone calls, notifications, social media, and relentless marketing.

But so much of what we are served is devoid of nutritional value. It’s a lot noise, very little signal.

So, how do we distinguish leadership from spin?

Well, we can’t really.

We can’t really know what someone will be like in office until after they’re elected.

I think being elected is like signing up for an MRI, it reveals who you are. Your strengths and your weaknesses. All of us have both.

But there’s no hiding in public office, your essence will be revealed.

Which is why I admire most (but not all) of those who venture into the arena even if I disagree with their politics. It takes courage to put yourself out there and that’s admirable, unless of course you are an opportunist or some sort of chameleon who will do or say anything to get the job.

This cycle we have candidates promising to cut our taxes (without providing specifics) and promising to lower our property insurance rates (if only). You might as well tell me you will cure male pattern baldness and improve my backhand.

There is no honor in that kind of campaign.

So, in this noisy world it’s often good to go back to basics. Here are three things I  look for in a good leader.

  • Someone who is willing to show us who they truly are. If you have a view share it. If you have a life story that makes you uniquely qualified tell us about it. Don’t poll test your answers. Just talk to us. Show us who you are. Don’t tell us you are going to solve traffic, fight crime, stop development and cut taxes while increasing services—that’s pandering. Show me a plan. Lay out some ideas, tell me why you are uniquely qualified to lead.
  • Someone who sees us. Someone who genuinely cares about the community and tries to see and listen to all points of view. You may not have our lived experience but show us that you care to listen. I look for someone who has been in the trenches…not someone who shows up to take a photo and then disappears. And not someone who is brand new to the community or brand new to community involvement. Elected office is not an entry level job. It just isn’t. Pay your dues. Because if you just show up and ask to run the place, all I see is a big ego.
  • Someone who tells us where we’re going and why we need to make the trip. 

What’s your vision? What are your ideas? What do you see?  What excites you? What concerns you? Tell it to us straight.

Now ask yourself, are we getting any of this? At any level. If not, ask yourself why not.

We stand for what we tolerate. We can do better.




  1. Pat Sciarillo says

    It’s too bad that those of us that live in unincorporated Delray Beach cannot vote. But it is what it is. I do hope whoever wins gets Old School Square back on track, curb some of the over building. Progress is good but sometimes we can go overboard. Good luck to those willing to take these jobs on..

  2. Kerry Koen says

    Jeff – Right on about knowing it when you see it. Real leadership is a quiet, subtle kind of thing that is almost “stealth- like”, and is only apparent when things ae abut to go off the rails. Leaders like Allan Simpson, Sam Nunn and Howard Baker were like that. Wen needed, their voices were much akin to the horn on a ’57 Plymouth. These men were Lions. We need to ask – where are the Lions now?

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